Thursday, July 03, 2008

Always Have a Plan B

I've been cagey ever since the day I got the news that I might have a matching donor, and I remained cagey (although slightly less so) when that donor was confirmed. The reason is simple; there are any number of reasons a donor could back out before they begin the procedure. It doesn't necessarily have to do with fear or callousness; it could be for medical reasons (if something turns up that appears to make the procedure unsafe for the donor, it's called off), or for pragmatic reasons (I recently read on a potential donor's blog about how, as a single mother, the extended hospital stay her donor centre required for the filgrastim injections wouldn't have worked out; fortunately, there were two other matching donors).

The fear that the donor might back out is heightened by the fact that as a black recipient, I have a much lower chance of finding another donor who can act as a backup—it's hard enough as it is to find one matching donor. And without a Plan B, what do you do when Plan A fails?

This is not a purely academic concern. You might remember back in May when Tamu wrote about Eunique Darby, a Syracuse teen who needed a bone marrow match and was fortunate enough to find one the day before the National Marrow Donor Program's annual Thanks Mom event. What I discovered a few weeks ago—and didn't report in the vain hope that good news would be around the corner—was that Eunique's donor had backed out. So rather than the feelings of relief and preparation for the transplant procedure, Eunique and her family have had to go back to square one.

I was unaware that the family had planned for a drive as part of the Juneteenth celebrations, but, as always, there are many ways to register. No matter where you are in the world, check out our list of registries for more information on registering in your area. Eunique needs a Plan B. For all I know, I might need one, too.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ethnicity and Bone Marrow Donation

From the moment we started discussing how we were going to get the word out about registering for bone marrow donations, the question of ethnicity—or rather its importance—came up. The seemingly contradictory message is this: ethnicity is important in matching, but it's not important in donating.

Getting past any issues of genetics, it's all a matter of odds. Let's say I have two friends, one a black Trinidadian and one a white Irishman. Who should donate to help me?

The answer is both. The odds favour the Trinidadian because of our similar ancestry, but the key word is favour. The Irishman might still match me; it's just that the odds are lower. Think of it this way: When you buy a lottery ticket, you have better odds of winning $100 than of winning $1,000,000. The odds favour the $100 winnings (if any), but you're still shooting for that jackpot.

So in one sense ethnicity means nothing. If you're going to donate, just do it no matter who you are. On the other hand, ethnicity means a lot. Because the bone marrow registries are overwhelmingly Caucasian, it means people of other ethnicities—particularly if they're mixed—have a much lower statistical chance of finding a match. Therefore it's also important for ethnic minorities to turn out and donate, as it bolsters the overall well-being of their communities.

A few more recent news stories highlight the issue. KIRO-TV reports on Greg Hachey, who is half-Filipino, half-Caucasian; Thaindian News mentions that the odds of a South Asian finding a match in the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) is 1 in 20,000 versus 1 in 15 for Caucasians; and a Philly.com article about the late saxophonist Michael Brecker (whose music I was listening to last night, by coincidence) who was personally affected by the under-representation of Jews and eventually promoted drives to help blacks.

[Cross-posted from Heal Emru.]

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